Once a coronavirus success story, Hong Kong is facing its worst outbreak yet, and policymakers are realizing how little they can do without worsening the worsening situation.
Nine infections have broken records in nine of the last 20 days. But unlike other global cities, Hong Kong has been reluctant to ban stay-at-home or shut down unprofessional businesses. Instead, the rules have become a bit stricter, changing by week. The public meeting was limited to four people, then two. Dinner-in was banned for dinner, then lunch. Masks were required on public transport, then all indoor public spaces, now everywhere on the street as well.
The steady drip of quasi-measures goes against what the brief history of the epidemic has done: widespread and stringent lockdown Early on infection stage. Currently flare up in Australia and other locations, officials have quickly reinstated tight restrictions.
Still milder than the outbreaks in many global cities, the up-tick in Hong Kong is particularly troubling, coming months after months with almost zero community transmission and as yet unattainable origins – of course Circumstances under which the most stringent restrictions are considered most effective.
But moving to Hong Kong further could create a humanitarian crisis. “Lockdown in Hong Kong is extremely difficult to enforce,” said Fernando Cheung, a legalist with a record of social advocacy. “There are over 200,000 people living in subdivided units, some without private toilets and others living in one room by mixing their kitchens, toilets and sleeping places. It is inhumane and impractical to ask people not to get out of that environment for long. “
With an average apartment running around 500 sq ft – about the size of a New York City studio – it is not the city’s 1.4 million poorest residents living in small spaces. Refrigerators are very small, with shelf space too limited to stock up on food for a week at a time. And while ordering groceries online has become the standard in other modern cities, it is not common or easy in Hong Kong.
“A complete lockdown? Nobody would say it’s not in the armory, but logically it’s a nightmare, “Bernard Chan, a top adviser to chief executive Carrie Lam, said in an interview. “People still need to go out and buy groceries. And people live in such a tight environment, even the lift from which you exit goes down. “
The challenge facing Hong Kong presents more evidence of the disproportionate impact of the epidemic along existing social and economic fault lines. From the US to parts of Europe and South America, the most vulnerable populations are suffering the brunt of the health crisis, which has been made worse by perilous institutions and structures.
The city already has a lockout dilemma Played in some developing countries like India, where this measure caused economic catastrophe and starvation without slowing down the virus. The country dropped its lockdown last month and the number of cases rose to around 50,000 per day.
Whether the Hong Kong authorities have further tightened the sanctions, time is running out on the current strategy. Almost 80% of the isolation beds and wards in public hospitals are full, and the city tests Capacity is limited. The government is trying to add capacity with private testing laboratories in Hong Kong and mainland China, and creating community isolation centers for patients in stable condition.
Meanwhile, the economy is already in deep recession, first after months of anti-Beijing demonstrations, then by epidemics. The government reports second-quarter growth figures on Wednesday, and economists expect a contraction of 8.2% compared to a year ago and a record decline in the first quarter of 8.9%. Higher than the unemployment rate Reached a 15-year high, doubling in the last 12 months.
Read more: Hong Kong’s Yaving Wealth Gap Grow Wider Amid Pandemic
Lam Ching Choi, a medical and physician advisor, said that in its current state of political and economic fragility, Hong Kong cannot impose a massive lockdown to eliminate all cases by mainland China. Instead, the measures aim to balance personal and economic needs with public health outcomes, and allow the city to remain as an open, international financial center.
Lam said in an interview, “Our confidence level is probably the lowest compared to Western countries because of the social events that occurred this year.” “So we should listen to our people and not affect their work, their daily lives – like shopping or visiting their family members.”
The poorest of the world’s most unequal societies are already suffering under new restrictions, even if they are not officially closed.
“This is a humanitarian disaster for the poor,” said Ng Wai Tung, a social worker at the Society for Communication Organization. Some of the poorest families in the city have to distribute masks because they cannot afford more. Many people have lost jobs, he said, and homeless people have lost access to public showers.
At 62, Yoo Kawan-yi does two cleaning tasks to afford the rent on a subdivided unit in a poor neighborhood. “I Feel Sad, as I have to sit in bed and face the walls, ”she said. “When others can find a place to feed, I have to go to wet markets every day. It’s risky – who wouldn’t worry?